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OSU study shows socioeconomic status drove transportation needs in 2020

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Posted at 2:24 PM, Oct 15, 2021

CLEVELAND — For many people, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how and even why they travel.

New research from Ohio State University shows how those with low incomes still spend plenty of time on the road to earn a paycheck.

In March of 2020, the Buckeye state began shutting down, closing restaurants, gyms, salons and movie theaters. During that lockdown, driving habits changed with those earning less left driving more.

“When they made trips, they actually made longer trips because there were more job closures, they actually had to travel longer distances,” said OSU professor of Geography Harvey Miller.

Researchers tracked the travel habits of people of different socio-economic backgrounds during 2020 using cellphone data. The information revealed while people who earned higher incomes traveled for leisure, like making short trips to parks, those on the lower end found travel essentials or work.

“There's still a mismatch between where people live and where they work,” Miller said. ”That's a lot to do with racial segregation, income segregation.”

Miller says this illustrates that transportation needs are unique for everyone as opposed to a one-size-fits-all application.

Miller spoke with the Ohio Public Transit Association about the findings in hopes of driving future investments and planning in transportation.

“Different social groups have different needs for transportation and mobility,” he said. “We really need to build more socially equitable and resilient transportation systems if we're going to do better.”

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